The Alberta government and a southern Alberta First Nation are calling on Ottawa to eliminate a roadblock preventing the creation of a new Indigenous police force.
The Siksika Nation, 130 kilometres east of Calgary, had its own police force from 1992 to 2002, but the 10-year agreement with the federal and provincial governments that established the organization wasn’t renewed due to a lack of funding.
Efforts to re-establish the force have been on hold for the past couple of years as the federal government completes a review of its First Nations and Inuit Policing Program.
“A big part of the next step is for Canada to step up and to be able to unfreeze the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program to be able to move forward and for this to be funded and to be set up,” said Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro at a news conference at Siksika on Monday with Chief Ouray Crowfoot.
“It is time for the federal government to unfreeze, finish their review, finish this off. Let’s get going.”
Alberta and the First Nation have signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to work together on initiatives to improve public safety for members of the Siksika Nation and developing a funding framework for a new police service.
“We’re the second largest First Nation in Canada from a land perspective, yet we don’t have policing. As soon as you go across the tracks, a 200-person hamlet (Cluny), has an RCMP detachment,” said Crowfoot.
Last month, Siksika signed a historic settlement with the federal government that provided $1.3 billion in compensation to the First Nation to resolve outstanding land claims, which include about 46,500 hectares of Siksika’s reserve and certain mineral rights taken by Canada.
Crowfoot said at the time that one of his priorities is to bring back a police force for the reserve.
“We’re not freeloaders here. We’re not asking for a free ride,” he said.
“We’re funding it ourselves and we’re just asking for co-operation from Alberta, co-operation from the federal government, to keep our people safe.”
Crowfoot said Siksika makes up about 85 per cent of the calls answered by the RCMP in Cluny and that the relationship is a good one. But he said response times on the sprawling reserve would be better answered by people who know the people and where they live.
“Having our own force would save lives, reduce critical response times, as well as from an economic standpoint. When you have police in a community you have a more preventive solution,” Crowfoot said.
“Our own force will reduce response time from police, which could save lives in those critical minutes or seconds in life-threatening situations.”
The chief said there are upcoming talks with the federal government about allowing Siksika to move forward and he realizes it’s going to take some time to complete the process.
“We’ve had multiple conversations. We realize it’s not like turning on a switch.”
The Canadian Press